As the nation recovers from its Newsnight affair, there could hardly be a more relevant movie than this new one from 43-year-old Danish director Thomas Vinterberg about a wrongful accusation of child abuse. Vinterberg has created a drama-thriller with the atmospheric grip of a horror film; there are echoes of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Lars von Trier’s Dogville, but the film has its own exemplary power, maturity and intelligence. To see The Hunt is to be reminded of our own recent history: we watched as a flagship news programme suffered a spasm of misjudgment that could have been avoided with a Google image search, and as a TV interviewer solemnly handed to the prime minister his piece of paper, apparently under the impression that lots of people on Twitter naming the same man was compelling evidence, perhaps unaware that everyone in a lynch mob is in favour of lynching the same person. But there is a dissimilarity between real life and this film: real children were really abused.
Vinterberg is the director responsible for Festen, the famous film about abuse and family dysfunction, with which he made his sensational breakthrough in 1998, and raised the banner for the lo-fi Dogme95 movement. Since that initial blaze of talent, his career is considered to have gone into the doldrums, although his extravagant fantasy It’s All About Love (2003) had ambition and brio, and I admired his last feature, Submarino (2010), which did not find a UK distributor. Now Vinterberg has come storming back with a gripping and moving work, co-written with Tobias Lindholm and directed with clarity and craftsmanship. It has also been tremendously photographed by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. Mads Mikkelsen is outstanding in the leading role of Lucas, suggesting suppressed agony with the minutest gestures, and there is a performance of eerie potency and poignancy from Annika Wedderkopp, playing Klara, the little girl in the eye of the storm.
Lucas is a recently divorced teacher in a small town in Denmark. He is withdrawn and unsettled: custody of his son has been given to his ex-wife, and a school closure has meant he has lost his job, and been forced to take a lowlier position at a kindergarten nearby. He is a popular member of this close-knit community, whose hard-drinking menfolk go in for boisterous outdoor pursuits and knockabout local traditions, including an annual deer hunt, whose obvious metaphorical possibilities Vinterberg handles with cool confidence.
One of Lucas’s pupils is Klara, the lonely daughter of Lucas’s closest friends, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing). While they yell at each other, neglected Klara comes to rely on kindlyLucas walking her to kindergarten and letting her play with his dog. One morning, there is an incident with Klara’s yobbish older brother and his mate, which feeds into Klara’s muddled need to show her affection for Lucas. He rebukes her, and through over-imagination, hurt feelings and spite, Klara concocts an accusation she forgets about almost the next moment, but which spreads and metastasises in the world of grownup bureaucracy.
Vinterberg brilliantly and unforgivinglyplays on two of the most important aspects of this kind of accusation: each person in authority must cover themselves and prove they play no part in any conspiracy of silence, and that they are not ignoring the testimony of the vulnerable. These impeccable considerations work against an innocent person. Importantly, Vinterberg does not suggest any kind of ambiguity. There is no doubt Lucas is innocent: and yet we see how rational people might believe the opposite, and how they reach a no-turning-back moment of group hysteria in which the accused person becomes taboo, an unclean microbe to be expelled. Little Klara is at fault, yet utterly innocent, a terrifyingly combustible combination. The single moment of bad faith created by Vinterberg occurs when the headteacher, Grethe (Susse Wold), at a crucial early stage, overhears Lucas in the staff kitchen flirting with a teacher, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport) – crucially, an outsider – and this appears to tip the scales against him. Vinterberg could even be suggesting, fleetingly, that the only adults guilty of abuse here are parents who allow their children access to internet porn. But these things are unclear.
It is arguably a flaw in the film’s realism that Lucas does not engage a lawyer, (although the father of a friend is supposed to be “helping” him), and the procedural aspects are sketchily drawn. Yet for me it is believable that someone in this situation would be too stunned to think of a lawyer, or think that engaging one would be an admission of guilt – and more to the point, an admission of reality, an admission that the nightmare is actually happening. Vinterberg contrives toe-curling, nail-biting setpieces of mass hostility and panic at the supermarket and church, and makes them viscerally convincing and involving. The final encounter of Lucas and Klara can only be watched through your fingers. There is no really evil individual here, and yet it is a portrait of pure evil.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Seit 1996 bin ich freier Mitarbeiter der Salzgitter-Zeitung, als Experte für das Geschehen im hiesigen Kreisfußball. Daneben sind meine Kolumnen seit 2005 fester Bestandteil im Lokalteil der Salzgitter-Zeitung. Zusammen mit Frau und Tochter sowie zwei gefräßigen wie faulen Stubentigern versuche ich das zu meistern, was das Leben, das Universum und der ganze Rest an Absurditäten für uns bereithalten.